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  • In August 2020, while Europe was

  • on the cusp of a devastating second wave of Covid-19,

  • and the U.S. was struggling to find beds

  • for its sickest patients with the virus,

  • this was happening in Russia.

  • But the rest of the world wasn't so sure.

  • Russia has become the first country to

  • give regulatory approval to a Covid-19 vaccine.

  • But there are myriad questions

  • and concerns already. A vaccine so quickly

  • and from a country notorious for propaganda and deception.

  • The issue is not about the science of the vaccine.

  • It's about the approach that was used

  • by the Russian government, in terms of approving

  • and starting to use the vaccine before the phase three

  • clinical trial data was in.

  • Starting to use the vaccine,

  • starting to try to export the vaccine

  • and launching this entire propaganda campaign

  • actually worked against the product.

  • After first facing scrutiny

  • on whether Russia's vaccines actually work,

  • now the question has become

  • whether they can meet worldwide demand.

  • Critics and observers

  • are now left wondering is the Kremlin playing vaccine

  • politics as part of a campaign to undercut Western powers

  • and their technology?

  • Or is this a case of solid science being tainted

  • by allegations of Russian hacking, poisonings

  • and interference in democratic elections.

  • Russia's scrambling

  • to bring Covid-19 under control.

  • Russia is battling a surge in Covid cases.

  • The virus came late to Russia,

  • but it is definitely here now.

  • Russia reported its first Covid-19 cases

  • in January in Siberia and Russia's far East.

  • By July, officials reported almost 840,000 cases.

  • And more than 30,000 excessive deaths.

  • Global health experts however,

  • have questioned the accuracy of Russia's data,

  • deeming the number of Covid related fatalities

  • too low given infection rates.

  • Russia acted very swiftly to impose restrictions.

  • It was one of the first countries to enact a total ban

  • on the entry of Chinese citizens.

  • And by late March, it had imposed a shutdown of its borders

  • and a series of lockdowns across the country.

  • Meanwhile, in Moscow,

  • the Gamaleya Research Institute

  • of Epidemiology and Microbiology named

  • after pioneering Russian vaccine researcher

  • Nikolay Gamaleya got to work.

  • They called the project Sputnik V.

  • Sputnik V is a reference to a very important date

  • in Soviet history, which was the launch

  • of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957

  • and that marked the start of the Space Race

  • between the Soviet Union and the United States.

  • In naming it after that, it's clear

  • that Russia was positioning itself as a player in a

  • geopolitical struggle.

  • The first artificial Earth satellite,

  • a world-stirring event.

  • By May, the Gamaleya Institute had already

  • started testing their vaccine on the center's director

  • as well as key scientific staff.

  • A move which seemed to place Russia ahead

  • of other countries in the vaccine race.

  • The institute supplied vaccines

  • for use against the Ebola outbreak

  • in Guinea in 2017 to 2018.

  • The Covid-19 vaccine

  • that they developed was based on technology

  • they had earlier applied in an experimental inoculation

  • against the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

  • or MERS.

  • And that's what allowed Russia to go ahead

  • relatively quickly in developing a Covid-19 vaccine.

  • But on August 11th,

  • when President Putin announced

  • that Sputnik had been registered

  • as the world's first Covid-19 vaccine,

  • it hadn't started vital phase three trials,

  • prompting worry among the scientific community

  • and mockery from the Trump administration.

  • I was extraordinarily surprised

  • to see that announcement in August.

  • I'm not surprised that they were working on it,

  • not surprised they started the clinical trials,

  • but very surprised and a little bit disturbed

  • to see them starting to use it before they had the data.

  • For Putin it was clearly very important

  • to be first in the world

  • to release and approve a vaccine.

  • And so the entire state propaganda apparatus

  • worked overtime

  • to present this as a huge victory for Russian science,

  • for the Russian pharma industry and basically as proof

  • of Russia's superiority in areas where the country

  • has long been written off.

  • Isn't it premature for Russia to

  • have approved this vaccine before phase three trials

  • are substantially underway?

  • No, not at all.

  • First we were criticized but then we saw that

  • Britain announced that they may follow suit.

  • U.S. FDA said that they may want

  • to register before phase three.

  • The suspicion that this is a propaganda tool rather

  • than actually a way to fight Covid-19 was obviously there

  • and it was expectable that reaction.

  • The Putin government has done a lot of ugly things

  • to earn the suspicion and distrust of especially

  • Western nations.

  • So obviously there was a certain handicap to overcome

  • and that could not be done with premature fanfare.

  • It could only be counteracted with scientific proof

  • and scientific proof was eventually delivered.

  • On February 2nd,

  • in the esteemed medical journal The Lancet,

  • vaccine experts, professors, Polly Roy and Ian Jones

  • reported that Sputnik V appeared safe

  • with an efficacy rate of 91.6%.

  • This was really a chance for Russia to dispel a lot

  • of the skepticism surrounding the vaccine and you know

  • whether it was actually good at combating Covid-19.

  • I think it's fair to say that demand increased as a result

  • of that breakthrough.

  • In Europe, there has definitely been a change of sentiment.

  • There are shortages of the vaccine in Europe.

  • So, you know, now the EU is looking at a request to

  • approve the use of Sputnik V.

  • In addition to that several European countries, France

  • Germany, Spain and Italy may also manufacture it.

  • So it's definitely fair to say

  • that there was a change of heart.

  • Sputnik is very similar to both the AstraZeneca vaccine

  • and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine in that it's

  • an adenovirus vectored vaccine.

  • And what that means is that they're using a common cold

  • virus to deliver a little bit

  • of the Covid virus

  • to your own cells and sort of tricks your cells

  • into making just a little bit of the Covid virus.

  • And with that little bit, which is the spike protein

  • your body's able to mount an immune response

  • so you develop T-cells, you develop antibodies

  • that all respond to Covid-19

  • if you should get infected in the future.

  • Sputnik V is also double vectored, which means

  • that it uses a slightly different version

  • of the vaccine in the second dose.

  • So protection against Covid-19 could last longer.

  • I don't necessarily think that in terms

  • of the vaccine itself and how it works in the body

  • it exhibits any advantages over the mRNA system.

  • Now vaccines like Sputnik, like AstraZeneca

  • and like the Johnson and Johnson vaccine

  • that are all adenovirus vector vaccines

  • are much more stable in warmer temperatures.

  • And so that makes this cold-chain much easier.

  • That means the storage and the distribution is much easier.

  • And so all of that is a real positive strength.

  • The AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson shots

  • have in rare cases, been connected to blood clots.

  • Russian officials claim that Sputnik though developed

  • in the same way hasn't caused similar side effects.

  • All of this combined

  • with a relatively low production cost of $10 a dose,

  • makes Sputnik V a viable option

  • for developing countries that are struggling

  • to either obtain or distribute inoculations.

  • But there are questions about how much politics

  • will impact the vaccine's distribution.

  • We do not do politics.

  • And obviously vaccine is our effort to save people

  • and it should not be politicized.

  • Russia clearly has been using the vaccine,

  • Sputnik V, as a way to bolster its global ambitions.

  • In Latin America for example,

  • Argentina has already had deliveries

  • of two and a half million doses.

  • It's ordered a total of 20 million.

  • Mexico is another big buyer they've asked

  • for 24 million doses.

  • Russia hasn't asked any countries to pay a premium.

  • However, it's not offering any discounts

  • for poorer countries.

  • So in Latin America or Africa

  • the price is the same as anywhere else

  • and that's approximately $10 a shot.

  • and we know that some Western manufacturers

  • are providing discounts for developing countries.

  • However, Russia's pharma industry,

  • wasn't prepared for the level of demand for Sputnik V.

  • The RDIF, Russia's sovereign wealth fund, who

  • were financing the vaccine had to strike production deals

  • around the world to support the global supply

  • for Sputnik V abroad.

  • There are definitely still problems in ramping

  • up production.

  • Russia's total production of Sputnik V

  • since the pandemic started is less than the number

  • of vaccine shots administered every two weeks

  • to the U.S. population.

  • It is now promising

  • to produce much larger quantities.

  • Particularly in India it has a very ambitious target

  • of 700 million two dose sets,

  • which it is hoping to get manufactured

  • outside Russia this year.

  • Closer to home,

  • there's been a lack of enthusiasm for the vaccine.

  • With a recent poll revealing that 62%

  • of respondents wouldn't take Sputnik V.

  • Despite ordering mass inoculations in January,

  • Putin himself didn't get vaccinated until seven months

  • after the August announcement.

  • The Kremlin said he was focusing on other inoculations.

  • It was not made public

  • which of the Russian vaccines he received.

  • In a way that the traditional Russian mistrust

  • of authority has made it easier

  • for the government

  • because the demand for the vaccine is not as high

  • as it would have been elsewhere.

  • In Russia, you can get it if you want it,

  • but many just don't want to

  • and perhaps even Putin's own slowness

  • in getting vaccinated is indicative of, you know,

  • how cautious Russians are about this whole thing.

  • Russia has been hit especially hard

  • by the pandemic with at least 250,000 epidemic-linked deaths

  • Russian officials said.

  • But the country could now

  • hold a powerful weapon in the fight against the virus.

  • I think the Sputnik vaccine will be a very powerful tool.

  • I think we still have a few questions

  • that need to be answered.

  • I still think we want to see the final data

  • at the end of May when the phase three trial is due to end

  • and all of the safety data.

  • So yes, a few small bits of data that I would like to see

  • but I think the Sputnik vaccine will absolutely

  • be a very powerful tool in the global vaccine campaign

  • as well as many other vaccines that are both being

  • developed right now, or being used in other countries.

  • We just need to combine that sort of manufacturing

  • and distribution with that solid clinical evaluation.

  • And I think that we are doing that.

  • It's made a huge difference to Russia's image.

  • Definitely a very good tool of soft diplomacy,

  • which has shown that Russia has the capacity to play

  • an important role in combating this pandemic.

In August 2020, while Europe was

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